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« Chem Prof Teaches Bad Physics | Main | CRN Inspired Cutting-Edge Nano-science »

March 26, 2010


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Perry E. Metzger

It is possible to advocate for responsible development of a technology without having to advocate for specific government action. However, it is perhaps better simply to do the development responsibly than to advocate for it. As Alan Kay once said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Nato Welch

I wouldn't say you're technically wrong - wise policy is ALWAYS called for, no matter what about. It's just that there's a limit to how wise a policy one can generate with so many unknown variables.

In fact, I would argue that the wisest policy decision to make, at this point, comes out of //recognizing// those limits, and refraining from offering policy based on that. Then, just wait for some of the unknowns to crystallize to a point where better decisions can be made. Be patient.

There's good policy to be made - but there's something to be said for not falling prey to the politician's syllogism before there's a good reason to recommend anything.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Yes, there is a limit to the wisdom of policies... I've been reading a book on poverty, White Man's Burden, which makes a very strong case that the "big plan" approach to foreign aid simply doesn't work.

The question goes a little deeper than when to recommend policy. The question is: should policy ever be recommended from a central source?

By saying "Good policy will be needed," CRN has been implying that central policy will be needed. Perhaps this is wrong. Could any central policy have improved the Internet?


Brian Wang

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. There needs to be an updated view based on how technology has been and is likely to play out. New facts on the ground.

- there are the pre-MM (quantum dots, metamaterials, nanoparticles, nanomaterials, ) and narrow-MM (carbon nanotubes, DNA nanotech, graphene, cvd, supramolecular chemistry, self assembly etc....)
-Plus there should be look at the status of powerful emerging technology or systems which functionally do a lot of what MM was/is going to do
(DARPA ISIS blimp will kick surveillence and privacy issues to another level as will smart dew (almost smart dust) and new nanoRFID

Not nanofactories yet but advancing additive manufacturing and emerging roll to roll manufacturing and other potential order of magnitude narrow manufacturing speedups. Potential for massively accelerated printable electronics (carbon nanotube and graphene inks that do not compromise function).

3 micron X 3 micron chips going into living cells. MEMS enabled bloodstream robots.

Any pre-thought out policy recommendations or analysis should be looking at the advancing precursor cases

Fine there are not a million trillion sensors and cameras but we have a few billion smart phones and RFIDs.

Staying on top of the leading edge of the emerging possible and being involved in that societal and policy discussion will keep the MM policy updated and keep CRN up to date on evolving policy discussions.

2. the work of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita needs to be taken into account. He has been able to very accurately predict political results because he assesses the self interest of involved groups. Thus he knew that Copenhagen climate talks were doomed because the self interest of countries involved would not align. CRN does not have the means to do very complicated versions of this but some recognition and attempt to determine the self interest of the most important and powerful groups should be factored into what kind of policy has any hope of implementation.

Using MM for technology/policy gedankan experiment is useful because MM shows how much more scaling a robust solution needs to have to a current situation.

* privacy with camera phone, internet records and satellites now and with MM...
* manufacturing with XYZ now but with MM

If the more extreme tech happens with something else (space capability from nuclear fusion rockets instead of MM) the consideration of the impact of a potential function is pre analysed in some detail.

CRN needs to consider how to be a relavant and topical think-tank with some unique longer term view.

Brian Wang

One other aspect is that it does not seem likely that real far reaching policy will be made in advance of a situation. A situation pretty much has to clearly start biting (causing a lot of deaths and billions of dollars in losses) to start initiating action. And even then it can take years to get motion.

Examples - not much effect stuff done two years after this financial crisis to prevent the next one. The enron situation triggered Sarbanes Oxley which was useless for the credit crisis and would not prevent Enron.

the Bernie Madoff ponzy scheme had someone who detected it almost ten years before. But the SEC ignored his warnings. Not much is happening years after to prevent any new ponzy scheme of this scale. Simple publishing of financial records in XML format to allow third party matching of debits and credits and verify claimed assets is not done.

Air pollution causes millions of deaths per year and the policy to limit is done decades after the effects are clear. Smoking policy lagged by decades as well.

An attempt to catalog of best and simplest policies to enact should be done as well as thinking about how to make institutions and cities etc... robust enough to survive screw ups and disasters.

Tom Craver

I used to argue against CRN's proactive policy approach, expecting that any such policies would keep the benefits out of people's hands, without protecting them from the dangers.

But eventually I realized what Brian is saying - there was near zero risk that we were going to do anything in advance about MNT. Even the far-sighted attempt to promote its development got hijacked.

As to what CRN can do - anticipate the stupid laws that WILL be written once MNT arrives, by those whose oxen are gored, or by those who see opportunities for increased personal power at the cost of what few remaining liberties we'll have by that point.

See if you can figure out how to innoculate against them. You can't innoculate legislators - but maybe you can convince those who will develop the nanofactories to take approaches that avoid triggering the worst traps until it's too late to mess MNT up too badly.

Anticipate the security issues and promote development of design approaches that inherently resist the worst risks.

Patents are going to be a massive sticking point due to mass infringement - figure out a fair solution, maybe even one that doesn't require force of govt to work, yet rewards both fundamental innovation and the person who comes up with the MNT era "Beanie Baby" equivalent.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

A couple of days ago, a biotech researcher told me that courts are starting to invalidate some key upstream/abusive patents... including patents on breast cancer genes.

(Though I'm not opposed to all patents, I know how unnecessary and harmful they've been in the software industry, and I know some patents have done substantial damage to medical research. So this seems to me like a step in the right direction.)


MM is the end of the way things are done now, and the beginning of the next age of man. We can not create policy looking at MM when all the baseline arguments for and against are made in this timeline. We can only begin to talk after the new age begins.

MM for me is a idea

The idea of an economy of plenty were all men have everything they can think of and everything anyone can think of.

The idea were poverty will end, were hunger will end, were for the first time racism “can” end, were disease is lessened and immortality can begin.

The idea that man can leave this place i.e. the earth, and live in comfort and safety in all places everywhere.

This is the idea and I am proud to be alive at this time. A time were for the first time technology is granting the promise, the promise of life.


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